I might have two religions. I am a Pagan. And I am a constitutionalist. I absolutely accept the constitution as a living document; a document that can be amended to adjust to changing mores (like equal civil rights) and new technology (like the Internet). But I also think the original documents that founded our country are pretty fracking awesome and very forward thinking. The basic tenets espoused in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights remain rooted in the American psyche. Or they should be. Admittedly, though, it’s easy to forget our roots in this respect and let legislation that counters these basic tenets slip by.
That’s what happened on January 7, 2002 when President George W. Bush signed a law that allows religious organizations receiving federal funds to consider religious affiliation in their hiring practices. To be clear, this law did not follow the legislative process (see this video for a reminder and a bit of reminiscing), it was an executive order (number 13279). So, its not like (the royal) we let a bill slip by without voicing our opposition because there was no bill. Still, I was completely ignorant about the whole affair until our dear friend Brad, an Episcopal priest in Houston, sent Jax and I an email about it.*
I’m glad I know about it now, though. Well, I’m glad to be informed, but not happy about the information. This kind of policy finagling matters to me. A lot. This finagle in particular matters to me because it affects both of my faiths…Paganism and constitutionalism. It affects Paganism because it is related to religious equality. [I’ll get back to this point!] It effects constitutionalism because it violates the prohibition against federal or state support of religion, more commonly known as the separation of church and state. [Editorial note from Jax: The Princesses have a difference of opinion on the content of EO 13279, and I do not look on it with disfavor. I’ll post my take in the comments!]
“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach. — Associate Justice Hugo Black, Everson v. Board of Education (1947)
But let me back up here a minute and give you low down on this low down law. I’ve been assuming you are familiar with the whole “separation of church and state” thing — ‘cause it’s pretty important legislation in our nation’s history. But just in case you’re not in the U.S. or if you’re a bit rusty on the constitution, here is a brief timeline to help you put Executive Order 13279 in perspective:
1787 — U.S. Constitution, Article 4: No religious test can ever be required of any public office. I’m tellin’ you, man. The Founding Fathers had it goin’ on.
1789 — Bill of Rights, 1st Amendment: Congress can neither create a law that establishes a religion or create a law that prohibits a religion. You go James Madison! Uh. You went James Madison! Hmm…how do you make that work in past tense? Anyway, this became applicable to all branches of government through a Supreme Court decision in 1925.
1964 — Civil Rights Act, Section 703 (a): It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against someone “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Title VII however, makes exemptions for faith-based organizations, including church groups, allowing them to discriminate when filling locally (as opposed to government) funded positions. In other words, faith organizations can hire with impunity so long as they are spending their own money. I can dig that.
1965 — President Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 expanding EO 8802 prohibitions against employment discrimination to all government contractors, not just defense contractors. When I look at the progressive policies of LBJ, I sometimes I think I can forgive him for Vietnam…but prolly not.**
1996 — Welfare Reform Act allowed houses of worship to provide taxpayer-funded social services in a few welfare programs, aka Charitable Choice (see first definition). This is a critical turning point because faith organizations could receive federal funds (and subsequently did). Many believe, as do I, this compromised the wall between church and state. I wouldn’t call Charitable Choice the trebuchet that smacked the wall, but I would liken Senator John Ashcroft (the dude who wrote this legislation) to Chinese warriors in 300BC (the dudes who invented the trebuchet).
2002 — President Bush signed Executive Order 13279 and allowed faith-based organizations receiving federal money to circumvent anti-discrimination laws.*** In other words, faith organizations can hire with impunity no matter whose money they are spending. Hey, if you ever wondered when the Republican party started cow towing to the religious right, look no further! Actually, you would have to look further…further back. ‘Cause it started way before W. was president. <Making a Lurch sound and shaing my head.> To be clear, this order lets faith organizations hire who they want, but they are still prohibited from discrimination when it comes to serving people with federal dollars.
2010 — President Obama signed Executive Order 13559 requiring federal agencies to provide alternatives for people who do not want to receive social services from religious groups. Essentially, this order did jack shit to reverse the tolerance for discrimination in Order 13279. Obama. Dude. Constitutional fail.
And so the pendulum swings.
Why is this an issue to me, as a Pagan? Ostensibly, I should be able to form a Pagan group and request federal dollars to provide social services in my community. And I should be able to hang a sign in my window that says, “Non-Pagans Need Not Apply” when I hire case workers or file clerks or janitors. So what do I care if other faith-based organizations are doing this? Maybe its the conspiracy theorist in me, but I don’t think Charitable Choice was written with pagan groups in mind. Even if not inherent in design, that has been true in execution.
[Note: Data are from page 10 of this 2002 report. I know its totally out-dated, but I couldn’t find more recent information.]
As a social scientist, I know this distribution may have a selection bias. That is, the people getting Charitable Choice money may be the people who applied for money. Maybe Christian groups make up the largest proportion of recipients because they are the only ones who asked for money. There may not be any systemic slant towards Christian faith-based organizations. Still…you have to wonder with numbers like these and given the architects of the Charitable Choice movement. And I do wonder. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Christian faith-based organizations don’t deserve these federal dollars. These organizations are doing good work by offering excellent social services while following all the rules.
I also care because taxpayer-funded discrimination on any level for any reason is wrong. I personally believe discrimination regardless of the funding is wrong, but I can’t tell everyone what to do all the time (despite my being a Princess!). But I can tell legislators how to spend my tax dollars.
Why is this an issue now? June 25th was the 70th anniversary of Order 8802, when the wall between church and state started taking modern form. Our friend Brad is one of many clerical leaders who signed a petition asking President Obama to reverse Order 13279. But alas, no change has come. It’s not too late, though. You can still join the many voices asking for an end to Order 13279.
What say you readers? Do you give a hoot about faith-based organization being allowed to discriminate when they hire staff paid with federal dollars? Do you think that EO 13297 has been detrimental to the separation of church and state?
* Brad is my favorite Episcopal priest! And not just because he drops the “F” bomb like an infant drops a pacifier.
** My dad served in the Vietnam Conflict. My mom says it changed him…and not for the better. So, I’m not really sure I can ever get past Vietnam.
*** W. Bush did more than just sign Order 13279, but space doesn’t permit me to go into everything in detail. I recommend reading this Mathematica report for details; it’s the most recent report I can find.